Help family and friends avoid romance scams

Romance scams use a false romantic connection to persuade or pressure someone to send money to a scammer.

Do you have suspicions that a friend or family member is involved in a romance scam? Unfortunately, it’s unlikely that people will be able to self-identify that they have become a victim.

Online romance scams are on the rise

Even with all the awareness in the community, romance scams are still a growing issue.

According to Scamwatch, in 2022 there were nearly 3,700 reported romance scam cases which cost Australians more than $40 million.* Many romance scams go unreported due to how traumatic it is for the victims, so the real number of victims is expected to be much higher. There has also been an increase in romance scams targeting younger Australians.

Many romance scammers have started to use their fake romantic connection to encourage victims to invest money into assets like cryptocurrency. This is a form of investment scam. Find out more in our investment scams article.

*Targeting Scams: Report of the ACCC on scams activity 2022.

Grace shares her story

At 67 years old, Grace*, a widow, stayed connected with her family and friends interstate through Facebook. She found she could join groups and play games via the social media channel. One day during a game of Words with Friends, her opponent sent her a message asking how her day was. This interaction was the start of what Grace thought was an exciting new romance.

“It started very innocently,” Grace advised from her New South Wales home. “On the first day, we just chatted and said ‘hi, how was your day’ and arranged a time to play again the next day. Over the next few games, he told me his name was Malcolm James, he was in the US military, and was based in Iraq. He also said he felt lonely and was looking for some company”.

Over the next 18 months, the person claiming to be Malcolm James drew Grace into what she thought was a loving relationship. It was in fact a scam leading to a series of escalating requests for money. This resulted in Grace’s life falling apart; she lost her entire life savings and went into significant debt.

Grace explains, “In those first few weeks he was so lovely, he really cared about me and we had a genuine connection. We would speak every day. He sent me poems, we shared pictures and he told me I was his ‘angel sent from heaven’. I just fell completely in love with him and we were soon discussing how we would build a life together once he was out of the army. He said he was happy to move to Australia as he was a trained accountant, so he would easily get a job here.”

Grace continues, “When he first requested money, we were looking to book flights to Australia so he could visit me. He said his accounts and credit cards had been shut down due to a computer issue, so he needed me to send a wire transfer to Nigeria where he had been transferred. He was meant to be getting a big payout from the army due to an injury, so I knew he was good for it. I just wanted to do anything I could to get him here. It never occurred to me that this could be a scam. We were in love so it all made sense at the time."

One request for money turned into more than ten, as Malcolm encountered issue after issue trying to get to Australia. These included medical emergencies affecting him and his family, and legal battles.

Eighteen months into the relationship, Grace had sent a total of $374,000 to Malcolm, and taken out a $35,000 loan against her house. The truth was finally revealed when Malcolm mistakenly sent Grace an email intended for someone else called Sandra. The email contained almost six months’ worth of the exact same messages that Grace had received, from the same email address and name.

Grace shares, “I was in shock, I couldn’t believe it! When I questioned him on it, he sent me a message saying, “Looks like the game is up!”. I am heartbroken, in debt and have no savings left. This scam has ruined my life, I just want to make sure it doesn’t happen to anyone else.”

Typical profile and actions of a Scammer:

Signs that someone is communicating with a scammer may include:

  • claiming to be a US citizen
  • claiming to work for the government, army or an aid organisation
  • claiming to work overseas
  • professing to fall in love almost immediately
  • poor grammar and spelling for someone who claims to be a native English speaker
  • asking to communicate by email rather than through a dating or social media site. 

How you can help

Do you know what to do if you think someone you know is involved in a romance scam? A combination of these red flags could indicate a friend or relative is involved in a scam:

  • the relationship started online
  • they have never met the person face to face
  • they have not seen the person via Skype, webcam or video chat
  • if they have spoken on the phone, it’s rare and the calls are brief
  • they fall in love within weeks, if not days of talking
  • your friend is secretive of the relationship and doesn’t want to discuss it (they may have been coached not to share too many details)
  • there has been a request for money.
  • they receive ‘investment advice’ involving cryptocurrency.

Next steps

How can you help a friend or relative realise they're involved in a romance scam?

  • Speak with your friend or family member to share your concerns.
  • Visit the Scamwatch website, opens in new window together to point out the similarities between their relationship and the case studies.
  • Google the scammer’s name to see if they’ve been reported on any scam sites.
  • Do a reverse Google image search of any photos they’ve sent, as they may already be on scam reporting sites.
  • If you have given away personal details, contact IDCARE. IDCARE is a free victim support service that can help you recover your identity and understand steps you can take to protect yourself. Phone their helpline on 1800 595 160 or  visit the IDCARE website, opens in new window to find out more. NAB sponsors IDCARE and if you are a NAB customer, let them know and you will get prioritised support.
  • If your friend or relative has already sent money, they should report it to the police, ReportCyber, opens in new window and their bank.

You can find more information on Scamwatch, opens in new window

Need assistance?

It can be difficult to convince a friend or relative that they're involved in a scam. Engaging the help of others can help.

  • Get in touch with IDCARE, opens in new window - Australia and New Zealand's counselling and support service to assist Australians impacted by scams, identify theft and cyber-crimes. They can provide support in convincing the victim that they're involved in a romance scam. IDCARE is a free, not-for-profit, service for all Australians.
  • Speak with the police about your concerns and see if they can assist with a welfare check or conversation.
  • Form a group intervention with other friends or family so that you can all share your concerns and suspicions together.

Helpful resources

How we can help

If you’re a NAB customer and you believe your business or personal accounts have been impacted by fraud or a scam, we’re here to help. Explore the immediate steps you can take to protect yourself and discover when you should get in touch with us to make a report.

Learn what to do in the event of fraud or scams

Get updates on the latest fraud alerts


IDCARE is Australia and New Zealand's not-for-profit counselling and support service set up to assist Australians impacted by identity theft and cyber-related crimes.

IDCARE can assist NAB customers to navigate through the process when identity details or credentials have been compromised through fraud or scams. IDCARE is a free service for all Australians.

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Australian Government | Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC)

The Australian Cyber Security Centre (ACSC) brings cyber security capabilities from across the Australian Government together in a single location. It’s the hub for private and public sector collaboration and information sharing to combat cyber security threats. ACSC provides topical, relevant and timely information on how home internet users and small businesses can protect themselves from, and reduce the risk of, cyber security threats such as software vulnerabilities, online scams, malicious activities and risky online behaviours.

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Australian Government | ReportCyber

ReportCyber is a secure reporting and referral service for cybercrime and online incidents which may be in breach of Australian law. The ReportCyber website provides a cybercrime reporting mechanism as well as helpful information about cybercrime.

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Australian Competition and Consumer Commission | Scamwatch

Scamwatch provides information to consumers and small businesses about how to recognise, avoid and report scams using publications, videos and other online resources.

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Australian Government | Office of the eSafety Commissioner

The Office of the eSafety Commissioner provides online safety education for Australian children and young people, a complaints service for young Australians who experience serious cyberbullying, and address illegal online content.

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Australian Government | Attorney-General’s Department

The Attorney-General’s Department website provides helpful information and resources about your rights and protections in regards to identity security, freedom of information and cyber security. The Department has developed a range of resources to assist people protect their identity and recover from the effects of identity crime.

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